Homelessness in all its forms is rising in the UK. Around 5,000 people sleep rough in England and Wales each night, more than double the number of 8 years ago. These are just a fraction of those who are homeless; 80,000 families including 120,000 children are in temporary council accommodation, while hundreds of thousands more sleep on friends’ couches and have no place to call home.
The minister for housing, James Brokenshire MP, was asked if the rises in homelessness were a result of Government policy today. He rejected the idea and said that the causes were “complex”. This line has been used by government spokespeople throughout the day.
Like the best misleading lines this is not entirely untrue. But the conveniently emphasised “complexity” hides a much simpler message – if you take away money from the poorest families then you mustn’t be surprised if many can’t afford to pay the rent.
The government has directed a large number of cuts to housing benefits over the past 8 years. From removing entitlement entirely from some groups, 1 to freezing and capping benefit rates, ordinary homes have become unaffordable to many people receiving benefits.
Is the new government plan to end rough sleeping a case of the Conservatives fixing a problem of their own making? Homelessness has gone up 170% since 2010
Read more on the government's plan to end rough sleeping here: https://t.co/5nT6pEZWas pic.twitter.com/cKKx6b4iib
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 13, 2018
Just one of these policies, the 2012 Housing Benefit Cap, meant that in inner London the proportion of houses affordable for Housing Benefit claimants dropped from 50% to 7%. It was shouted from the rooftops that this would lead to an increase in homelessness – and all the evidence indicates that it did.2
It is notable that after huge welfare cuts taking around £20Bn away from the UK’s poorest families, the number of people needing help from foodbanks has risen from less than 100,000 in 2010 to 1,332,952 last year. The reasons for this rise were also described by the DWP as “complex”.
Indeed, as detailed here a number of the bad consequences of government policy on the poorest families have been describes as “complex”. I have come to the conclusion that ministers have a dictionary which defines the word:
“complex” – an embarrassing situation likely caused by (this) Government’s policy, for which we wish to avoid responsibility
With that in mind I agree that this is a “complex” situation that needs to be solved. The Government’s new strategy is a start, but they have missed out a key element of this policy – tackling the fact that families simply do not have enough money.
1 These are mostly migrants, who have had money removed as part of the hostile environment web of polices and who are now very likely to be sleeping rough.
2 An impartial short summary of the effects of welfare reform from the House of Common Library see p40 http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN02007/SN02007.pdf